Bartini Beriev VVA-14 – How Many Engines?
It was not just the West who came up with some bizarre aircraft designs, the Soviets also had their share of odd-looking aircraft. The Bartini Beriev VVA-14 was a vertical take-off amphibious aircraft (yes we are aware this seems crazy!).
Designed to destroy the US Navy’s Polaris missile submarines, she was first developed in the early 1970s. However, like many unusual Soviet designs, ultimately it led to nothing other than an expensive waste of money.
Although this was a Soviet aircraft it was actually designed by Robert Bartini, who was born in Italy. After the Fascist takeover of Italy in 1922, Bartini was sent to the Soviet Union as an aviation engineer.
He took all of the latest technological designs with him and was given Soviet citizenship. A lot of his aircraft were based around the ground effect.
The ground effect for fixed-wing aircraft reduces the aerodynamic drag that a wing generates when it is close to a fixed surface, for example, water or the ground. The air below the aircraft, between the wing and the ground, is compressed and creates a cushion that tries to push upwards. This reduces drag and enables a much heavier aircraft to fly.
Back to the VVA-14 – it was designed to be able to make “true” flights of high altitudes as well as take advantage of the ground effect for efficiency. Most aircraft at the time could only do one of these.
In early 1970, with help from the Beriev Design Bureau, the VVA-14 project was born. It was going to be developed in three separate phases. First the VVA-14M1. This was to be the aerodynamics testbed. The VVA-14M2 came second, and had two engines for testing the VTOL capability. Finally, VVA-14M3 was to be a complete and fully equipped aircraft with anti-submarine warfare technology and a magnetic anomaly detector.
This beast had a wingspan of 98 ft 5 in (30 m) and a huge empty weight of 51,227 lbs (23,236 kg). Yet as part of the design, it was supposed to be able to take off vertically! Fully laden the weight more than doubled to 114,640 lbs (52,000 kg).
How would such a heavy aircraft take off vertically? Engines. Lots of engines. Specifically, 14 of them.
12 of these were Rybinsk RD-36-35PR turbofan power plants for vertical flight. Each produced 9,700 lbf (43kN) of thrust and were also used by the Yak-38 and MiG-21. The other two engines were Soloviev D-30M turbofans producing a much higher thrust output of 15,000 lbf (67kN) each. They would propel the VVA-14 to a top speed of 470 mph (760 km/h) and a maximum altitude of around 25,000 ft – 33,000 ft (10,000 m)
The VVA-14’s Cancellation
By 1972, the first prototype was ready to take flight and took off conventionally in September. It was later fitted with pontoons and tested in the water. This prototype never had the 12 lift engines fitted, yet managed to rack up over 103 hours of flying time.
Whilst designed to use 12 RD-36 engines, they were not really suitable for the VVA-14. This doomed the project and after Bartini died, it was completely out of steam. By 1974, just four years after its inception, the project was brought to a close.
One of the prototypes does still survive, however, and resides in the Central Air Force Museum in Moscow. Unfortunately, she was damaged in transit and is still in a sorry state as the damage was never repaired.
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Length: 25.9 m (85 ft 2 in)
Wingspan: 30 m (98 ft 5 in)
Height: 6.7 m (22 ft 3 in)
Empty weight: 23,236 kg (51,227 lb)
Gross weight: 52,000 kg (114,640 lb)
Powerplant: 2 × Soloviev D-30M turbofan engines, 15,000 lbf thrust each
Powerplant: 12 × Rybinsk RD-36-35PR turbofan lift engines, 9,700 lbf thrust each
Maximum speed: 470 mph (760 km/h)
Range: 1,520 mi (2,450 km)
Service ceiling: 8,000–10,000 m (26,000–33,000 ft)